MTA's Law Firm Bounces Over Closeness With Labor: Report

Firm quit in February after not being invited to arbitration meeting

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    NYSDOT
    Former MTA chief Elliot Sander asked Proskauer to consider withdrawing from the contract negotiations, but ultimately ended up having to hire another firm.

    Hasta luego. The high-profile law firm that has represented the MTA in labor dealings for more than 20 years jumped ship over concerns about the agency's cushy relationship with the union, according to a published report.

    Proskauer Rose felt transit authorities were keeping the firm out of hush-hush meetings with labor and couldn't adequately represent the agency if it was shut out of negotiations, sources told the Daily News

    The Manhattan-based firm bounced in February after NYC Transit President Howard Roberts conducted the first meeting with an arbitration panel without inviting Proskauer attorneys or the MTA's labor relations director to the table, reports the News.

    The MTA then looked to a San Francisco-based labor firm, Littler Mendelson to represent the agency before the arbitration panel, which granted the labor union a munificent deal last week.

    The agreement included annual pay increases adding up to more than 11 percent in three years; reducing employee healthcare contributions was also part of the bargain.

    The transit authority's money woes have gone public this year, with the agency begging Albany for hundreds of millions in bailout money and hiking fares to avoid bankruptcy. The new labor-friendly contract, which is binding, will cost about $350 million more annually, reports the News.

    Proskauer has a rep for battling labor unions and has fought Transport Workers Union Local 100 for years -- a struggle that has included court challenges stemming from the union's illegal strike in 2005, according to the News.

    When Proskauer told the MTA it wanted out of the contract war, then-MTA CEO Elliot Sander pleaded with attorneys to change their minds. But they didn't, and the cash-strapped transit agency had to hire another firm.

    Bettering labor relations had been a top priority under the administration of Sander, who joined the MTA in 2007 and stepped down four months ago. He developed a strong relationship with Local 100 head Roger Touissant, reports the News.

    Sander and Touissant agreed on major components of the new labor contract before the deal even went to the table, leaving only the question of money to be determined by the arbitration panel, reports the News. The pay hikes awarded by the panel matched what Mayor Michael Bloomberg granted other city employees.

    Proskauer had no comment on the deal, according to the News

    Backers of MTA President Howard Roberts, a Sanders appointee, say it's not a big deal Proskauer wasn't invited to the arbitration panel's first conference back in February. It wasn't necessary for the agency's attorneys to come -- and besides, the labor union's law firm wasn't there either, they say.

    "Why would the panel need the approval of the MTA's outside lawyers to discuss availability and outline a preliminary schedule?" Toussaint, who represented the union on the panel, told the News.

    Proskauer eventually agreed to come back to work for the MTA on a partial basis, representing the agency on its formerly-private bus lines but staying clear of the massive bus-subway agreement with the TWU, reports the News

    The firm is also evaluating the arbitration award to decide if the agency should fight the expensive agreement at the behest of CEO Helena Williams, according to the paper.